Archive for April, 2009

New commentary on Philippians

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Dean Flemming is a Nazarene NT scholar teaching at European Nazarene College in Switzerland. He has a new commentary out on Philippians from Beacon Hill Press in The New Beacon Bible Commentary series, a series in the Wesleyan tradition. However, one does not need to be in this tradition to benefit from this work. I have not yet read the entire book, but its well-researched and well-written; it is attractively presented; and it is scholarly, theological, and pastoral. (Full disclosure: Dean Flemming and I think alike about Philippians, but from my perspective, that’s OK.)

The Amazon link:

Why the “Left Behind” series should be left behind

Friday, April 17th, 2009

This is an extended version of part of a lecture I gave on Revelation today. I thought it was old news, but apparently it is not, if student reaction is any indicator.

Problems with the Left Behind Series

Hermeneutical (Interpretive)

  1. This series is not really fiction but a combination of theology and “proleptic documentary,” like an advance DVD, because it sees biblical “prophecy” as “history written in advance” (Left Behind, p. 214). The correspondence between the books and the commentary by LaHayve and Jenkins (Revelation Unveiled) is revealing, but not surprising.
  2. It treats the Bible as a puzzle to be pieced together into a script about the future, with various texts from various books  taken out of context and linked to current or expected current events. The method has sometimes been called biblical “hopscotch,” and the result is a patchwork quilt with scenes from Revelation as the most prominent and thematic aspect of the quilt.
  3. It claims to be literal but is not or is only selectively so. A better description would be correlative (as opposed to literal or analogical).
  4. It misunderstands the nature and function of both prophetic and apocalyptic literature, and it grossly misinterprets certain key texts. Prophetic is not merely predictive, and apocalyptic is heavily symbolic. It is more like a series of political cartoons than a documentary.
  5. It finds aspects of the second coming that are not in the Bible—e.g., two comings of Jesus, a rapture in Revelation.
  6. It imposes a foreign, 19th-century theological, interpretive construct onto the ancient biblical texts: dispensationalism.
  7. It assumes that we are on the brink of the rapture and tribulation, and that is really all that matters.


  1. It misunderstands the NT references to the “end times.” For the NT, the “end times” is the period between the two comings.
  2. It reduces the gospel to “God and Jesus and the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing,” amounting to an unhealthy preoccupation with the details about events surrounding Christ’s second coming.
  3. It reduces the reason for conversion primarily to fear.
  4. It reduces discipleship to (a) faith in Jesus’ death in order to avoid being left behind or destroyed, (b) evangelizing others so they won’t be left behind or destroyed;  (c) correlating “Bible prophecy” with current events; and (d) preparing to die or kill for the gospel/kingdom.
  5. It is escapist and therefore has no ongoing ethic of life between the times, between the first and second comings. There is no compulsion to love one’s neighbor: to practice deeds of mercy, work for peace and justice, etc. Contrast the hope of imminent return and ethic in 1 Thessalonians, which actually has an ethic for life in the hope of the second coming.
  6. It is inherently militaristic. Anything resembling “pacifism,” international cooperation, or disarmament is satanic, and believers are called to participate in a literal war that is guaranteed victory by the return of a conquering Jesus. Christian heroes join this Jesus, carrying and using Uzis and the like.
  7. It is inherently anti-Catholic. The only good, saved Catholics are those who are basically Protestant.
  8. It fails to see the church as empire’s alternative rather than its chaplain or its warmaking opponent.


  1. It privileges the state of Israel in an uncritical way.
  2. It is suspicious of anything like the work of the United Nations.
  3. It sees wars in the Middle East as part of God’s plan, in effect, therefore, as a good, a desideratum.
  4. It is uncritically pro-America.
  5. It inculcates a survivalist and crusader mentality into the minds of its readers.

An alternative approach to Revelation will be posted later.

Revelation Lecture Outline

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

I am lecturing on Revelation for Prof. Susan Eastman’s NT intro class this Friday here at Duke. Here is the outline of my lecture, minus illustrations. I will post parts of the lecture in coming days. 

Worshiping and Following the Slaughtered Lamb into the New Creation

I.                    When I say “Revelation,” you say…

II.                 Attraction or Revulsion?

A.       The Aesthetic Appeal of Revelation: music, art

B.      Revelation as a Problem

                                                        1.      Critics

                                                        2.      Functional de-canonization

                                                        3.      Fanatics

III.               Introductory questions

A.       Genre(s): a hybrid

B.      Date: 60s or 90s

C.       Authorship: which John?

D.      Rhetorical situation: persecution or accommodation?

E.       Addressees: then and now

IV.              Hermeneutics

A.       Four possible strategies

                                                            1.      Preterist (historical-critical)

                                                            2.      Predictive

                                                            3.      Poetic

                                                            4.      Prophetic

B.      Misinterpreting Revelation: Why the “Left Behind” series should be left behind

                                                             1.      Hermeneutical problems

                                                             2.      Theological problems

                                                             3.      Political problems

C.       Principles for the Interpretation of Revelation

V.                 The Contents of the Revelation

A.       An Outline

B.      Seven Prophetic Oracles

                                                             1.      Form

                                                             2.      Examples: Smyrna, Laodicea

C.       Theological Foci in Images and Symbols

                                                              1.      The Son of Man

                                                              2.      The Heavenly Throne Room

a.      Counter-imperial

b.      Source of judgment and salvation

c.      God and the Lamb

d.   Central Image: The Lion of Judah as The Slaughtered Lamb

                                                               3.      Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

                                                               4.       Judgment and Plagues: Seals, Trumpets, Bowls

                                                               5.      The Unholy Trinity: One Dragon, Two Beasts

                                                               6.      Babylon the Harlot and the Lamb’s Bride

                                                               7.      New Heavens and New Earth

VI.              The Spirituality of Revelation

VII.            Revelation as Climax: of prophecy, NT, canon, God’s story




Commentaries by Mitchell Reddish (Smith and Helwys), Ian Boxall (Black’s), Chris Rowland (NIB), Eugene Peterson (Reversed Thunder)

Richard Bauckham, The Theology of Revelation

-  M. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly (late 2009 or early 2010)

Summary of Inhabiting the Cruciform God (pt. 3)

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

Here’s the final intallment of my brief summary of the new book.

Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology

Chapter 3. “You Shall be Cruciform for I am Cruciform”: Paul’s Trinitarian Reconstruction of Holiness as Theosis. Paul redefines holiness as countercultural participation in and conformity to the cruciform character of the triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit. Holiness is not a supplement to justification but the actualization of justification, and may be more appropriately termed theosis.


~ “Cruciform holiness stands in marked contrast to key Roman values (which can infiltrate the body of Christ), especially those values associated with the libertine and status-seeking lifestyle of the elite, and those related to the power and domination predicated of imperial divinity. This cruciform holiness means, in sum, becoming like Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son, and thus also becoming like God—for God is Christ-like…. Paul speaks to the ancient (and contemporary) desire for God-likeness by claiming that [it occurs] through participation in Christ’s death and resurrection” (p. 124)


Chapter 4. “While We Were Enemies”: Paul, the Resurrection, and the End of Violence.” Nonviolence is one of the essential marks of participating in the life of the kenotic, cruciform God revealed in the gospel of Christ’s cross and resurrection and narrated by Paul. Paul’s own conversion when he met the resurrected Jesus included turning away from justification by exclusion and zealous violence, the mode of justification seen in Phinehas, to justification by participation in the inclusive death of the Messiah.


~ “Because of the resurrection of Christ, Paul comes to see the cross, not merely as a means of death, but as a means of life. He also sees Christ’s resurrection by God as God’s pronouncement that covenant fidelity, justification, holiness, and opposition to evil are not achieved by the infliction of violence and death but by the absorption of violence and death. For Paul, the communities to which he wrote, and us, his gospel of cross and resurrection defines the ongoing identity of Christ present among us and thus a fundamental characteristic of cruciform existence in Christ: a life of nonviolence and reconciliation. That is, for Paul, this kind of life is an integral part of his vision of justification and of participatory holiness—theosis.” (p. 130)


Conclusion: Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Theosis as Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. The conclusion summarizes the book, concludes that theosis is the center of Paul’s theology, and shows how cruciformity (radical, costly discipleship) and participation/theosis appear also in Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of Paul in [The Cost of] Discipleship.


~ “To describe Paul’s soteriology as theosis, and to posit it as the focus — or even the center — of his theology, does not… “over-spiritualize” salvation and thereby de-politicize it. Such a conclusion, which constructs a dichotomy where Paul sees only a unity,  would be possible only if one were to ignore the argument of this book from chapter one to the conclusion. Furthermore, the use of the term theosis does not remove salvation from the larger narrative and divine project to which the Scriptures of Israel and the Pauline letters bear witness.” (p. 172)

Summary of Inhabiting the Cruciform God (pt. 2)

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology

Here’s a summary of the Introduction and the first two chapters, with brief quotes.

Introduction: Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Paul and the Question of Theosis. This considers the renewal of interest in theosis, reasons for raising the question of theosis in Paul, and a working definition.

~ For Paul, theosis is “transformative participation in the kenotic, cruciform character of God through Spirit-enabled conformity to the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected/glorified Christ.” (p. 7)


Chapter 1. Although/Because he was in the Form of God”: The Theological Significance of Paul’s Master Story (Phil 2:6-11). Chapter one examines Phil 2:6-11, which may be called Paul’s master story, to show that Christ’s kenosis (self-emptying) reveals the kenotic, cruciform character of God. The cross as the definitive theophany challenges “the normalcy of imperial divinity” (Crossan/Reid) and summons us to countercultural cruciformity understood as theosis.


~ [T]he Greek phrase en morph? theou hyparch?n in Phil 2:6 (“being in the form of God”) has two levels of meaning, a surface structure and a deep structure (to borrow terms from transformational grammar), one concessive and one causative: “although he was in the form of God” and “because he was in the form of God.” These two translations, which, as we will see, are really two sides of the same coin, correspond to two aspects of Paul’s understanding of the identity of the one true God (or “divine identity”) manifested in this text: its counterintuitive character (“although”) and its cruciform character (“because”).” (p. 10)


~ “[T]he incarnation and cross manifest, and the exaltation recognizes, both Christ’s true divinity and his true humanity, all of which leads us in a Chalcedonian direction, though with a Pauline (cruciform) twist…. To be truly human is to be Christlike, which is to be Godlike, which is to be kenotic and cruciform. Theosis is the process of transformation into the image of this God.” (pp. 38-39)


Chapter 2. “Justified by Faith/Crucified with Christ”: Justification by Co-Crucifixion: The Logic of Paul’s Soteriology.” Chapter two looks at several key texts in Paul, especially Gal 2:15-21 and Rom 6:1–7:6, demonstrating that justification is life with God by means of co-crucifixion with Christ, and is therefore a death-and-resurrection experience. It is participation in the covenantal and cruciform narrative identity of Christ, which is in turn the character of God, and thus justification is itself theosis. This chapter is the book’s longest because justification is such a central aspect of Paul’s theology and spirituality, because justification is currently a matter of significant exegetical and theological debate, and because the proposal being made is bound to be controversial. It is the soul of the book, attempting a holistic reading of Paul that moves beyond the impasse created by the arguments of traditionalists and proponents of the New Perspective.


~ Because justification is an “‘exegesis of the crucifixion,’ which includes a living exegesis of the doctrine in the community of believers growing into the image of the Son, we can once again affirm with conviction and joy both that the doctrine of justification is central to Paul and, indeed, that it is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. At the same time, we can affirm that justification, precisely as an exegesis of the crucifixion, where God is revealed in the Son as kenotic and cruciform, is theosis. In justification we become the righteousness of God, the embodiment of God’s covenant fidelity and love, God’s generosity and justice.” (p. 104)

Inhabiting the Cruciform God–summary (pt. 1)

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009


Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology

This book (Eerdmans, April 2009) is the logical continuation of my work on Paul, especially an earlier monograph, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Eerdmans, 2001), with a focus on the implications of the central claim of Cruciformity’s first chapter: that for Paul, God is cruciform. If that is true, then cruciformity is really theoformity or, as the Christian tradition (especially in the East) has sometimes called it, theosis—deification or divinization. It is conformity to Christ, or holiness, understood as participation in the very life of God. The book unpacks the claim that cruciformity is theosis. It also argues that Paul has only one soteriological model, justification by co-crucifixion, which is itself theosis. The book unfolds in four closely connected chapters. Each chapter includes theological reflection on the contemporary meaning of Paul’s participationist soteriology. One major theme of the book is that many of the theological distinctions we make in analyzing Paul (justification-sanctification; declaration-transformation; faith-works; faith-love; spirituality-politics) are foreign to Paul’s way of thinking and maintaining them actually contributes to serious misunderstandings of Paul. A subtext of the book is that Paul has been over-Protestantized and that it is time to re-discover a more ecumenical Paul.


Context (others with similar interests; convergence of themes, trends)

·         Paul and participation: A. Schweitzer, A. Deissmann, E.P. Sanders, R. Hays, M. Hooker (“interchange”), D. Campbell (“Trinitarian participationism”; PPME: “pneumatologically participatory martyrological eschatology”)

·         Paul and narrative: R. Hays, S. Fowl, N.T. Wright, B. Longenecker, K. Grieb, S. Keesmaat

·         Debates about justification: New Perspective, “traditionalist” reactions; question of two soteriological models in Paul (forensic/juridical/legal and participationist); 2009 books on justification (in order of length): Gorman, Wright, Campbell

·         Unity of justification and participation: R. Hays, R. Tannehill

·         Growing interest in reformers and participation; renewed interest in theosis

·         Paul and theosis: R. Hays (we should read Paul via the early Fathers), B. Blackwell (Durham diss.), S. Finlan (theosis in Paul as three-stage process = dying to sin, moral transformation, eschatological transformation), M.D. Litwa (JTI article on 2 Cor 3:18), N.T. Wright

My New Book is Out

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

Just in time for Holy Week and Easter, my new book is out, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology (Eerdmans, 2009). It can be found here: and here:

Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology

Paul and the Resurrection

Monday, April 6th, 2009

An article I wrote for “The Priest” magazine that is valuable for priests and non-priests, Catholics and the rest of us (

St. Paul and the Resurrection

The Resurrection is the foundation of all we are

Whether we think of the first century or the 21st century, the resurrection is both a central and a controversial part of Christian theology and experience. Today we hear about those who challenge the possibility of resurrection — whether Christ’s or ours — both outside and inside the Christian church.

The situation was much the same in St. Paul’s day. When Paul preached about the resurrection of the dead to the intellectuals of his day, some believed, but others scoffed (Acts 17:32). And much to his chagrin, after he preached the resurrection to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:1-4), some in the Corinthian church began to say that ”there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:12). Paul then proceeded to write the text on the resurrection that has been foundational and formative for 2,000 years of Christian history, 1 Corinthians 15.

In our own day of skepticism and misunderstanding about many basic Christian convictions, what can we learn from the apostle Paul concerning the theological and spiritual significance of Christ’s resurrection and of ours? We may approach this topic from four angles, beginning with the critical importance of Christ’s resurrection.

For the apostle Paul, the resurrection of Christ was not merely one among many Christian convictions; it was the one that guaranteed the significance of all others and provided the rationale for the life of faith, hope and love expected of those who live in Christ. From Paul’s perspective, to deny or misinterpret the resurrection is to undermine the entire Christian faith.

In his response to the Corinthians who denied the resurrection of the dead, Paul argued logically that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, he says, ”your faith is vain; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). That is, Christ’s death on the cross for sins (see 1 Cor 15:3) has no saving significance without the resurrection. It is merely the Roman crucifixion of a false messiah.

Furthermore, the apostle asserts, if Christ is not raised,

Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all…. If the dead are not raised: ”Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor 15:18-19,32b).

In other words, the dead are dead, there is no hope of eternal life, and the idea of living a life of sacrificial devotion to God and others in the present is simply absurd. Instead, let’s party! Death is the end, and the only logical thing to do is enjoy this life to the max: Carpe diem.

It is unlikely that the naysayers of resurrection in Paul’s day or ours recognize the grave consequences of their disbelief. It is one of the tasks of Christian preaching and formation to make these consequences clear.

The Meaning of Christ’s Resurrection

Paul, to be sure, does not think Christ is dead or that the life of faith, hope and love is an existential mistake. Rather, he exclaims, ”But now Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor 15:20a). The way this is worded is critically important: ”Christ has been raised,” rather than ”Christ arose,” implies that someone has raised Christ from the dead. That someone, of course, is God the Father, and Paul almost always uses language about Christ’s resurrection that explicitly affirms or implies God’s raising of Jesus.

By doing so, Paul tells us that the resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus and God’s stamp of approval on how Jesus lived and died. Jesus’ death, and the life that led to it, are neither misguided nor meaningless. His death was indeed God’s provision for the forgiveness of our sins and our liberation from the very power of sin itself. Moreover, Jesus’ life and death reveal the way that God operates in the world and the way God wants us as the people of God to live in this world, too (1 Cor 1:18-2:5).

Furthermore, in the resurrection of Jesus, God demonstrates that sin, evil and death do not have the final word in God’s world. We know that the twin enemies of the human race, sin and death, will be defeated (1 Cor 15:55-57). In fact, God’s resurrection of Jesus initiates a new age that is characterized by resurrection to new life (power over sin) in the present and bodily resurrection to eternal life (victory over death) in the future. We can participate in that new age by sharing in God’s resurrection of Jesus through the experience of death and resurrection contained in, and symbolized by, baptism (more on this below).

We must stress here one key point that contemporary Christians often fail to understand or try to avoid: that Christ’s resurrection was a bodily resurrection. Paul was a Pharisee, not a Platonist, and he did not believe in the immortality of a body-less soul. Bodily resurrection does not mean simply the resuscitation of a corpse, but neither is it merely a metaphor for Christ’s ongoing existence in the Church as His body, or something similar.

Paul’s Corinthian audience was apparently confused about the corporeality of resurrection, too, so the apostle develops some elaborate analogies to help the Corinthians understand that bodily resurrection means transformation, and thus both continuity and discontinuity with respect to our current bodily existence (see 1 Cor 15:35-57).

But resurrection is nonetheless a bodily experience. Paul would have agreed with later Christian writers who repeatedly urged that ”What Christ has not assumed [taken on himself], he does not redeem.” But Paul might have stated it as follows: ”Christ has in fact redeemed that which he assumed [that is, the body].” As we will see below, this has much significance for Christian ethics.

When contemporary Christians think of their own resurrection, they most often imagine the future reality of eternal life with God, however they conceive of that reality. Paul would certainly not deny the reality of our future resurrection to eternal life with God, but he also stresses the present reality of resurrection now.

In baptism, Paul says, we have shared in Christ’s death and resurrection (see Rom 6). Our old self was crucified with Christ (see Rom 6:6) and a new self was raised from the dead so that: ”just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Paul describes this ”newness of life” as dying to sin and living to God (see Rom 6:6, 11ff). The final outcome of this new life is future eternal life (see Rom 6:5, 22), but the main emphasis in Paul’s words about baptism is not on future resurrection but on present resurrection — ”living to God.”

Preaching about resurrection, whether at Easter or at baptisms and funerals, should reflect Paul’s emphasis much more than it usually does. We misinterpret resurrection and mislead both Christians and others if we convey the idea that resurrection is primarily about ”going to heaven when you die.” Resurrection is first of all about new life here and now. It is about putting on Christ in baptism (Gal 3:27) and then doing so every day thereafter (Rom 13:14).

The Spiritual and Ethical Consequences of Resurrection

The significance for Paul of resurrection to new life could hardly be overestimated. On every page of his letters, he is urging his congregations to embody the new life they have in Christ. We may briefly mention three dimensions of this new life.

First of all, the new life we live is in fact the life of Christ within us. If Christ has been raised, then He is not dead but alive, and He comes to inhabit His people, both individually and corporately, to infuse them with His very life, which is in fact the life of God: ”I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:19-20). Too often contemporary Christians underestimate and under-utilize the indwelling power of Christ.

Second, the resurrection to new life is, paradoxically, a life shaped by the cross. In being raised to new life, we do not leave the cross behind. Not only is our crucifixion with Christ an ongoing experience (again, Gal 2:19-20), but the very shape of the resurrection life is cross-shaped, or cruciform.

That is, the life that Christ lives in us by the power of His Spirit is an extension of the life of obedience to God and love for others that landed Him on a Roman cross. Christ’s self-giving generosity, service and hospitality (see 2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:1-11; Rom 15:1-3) continue their life in the life of His people.

Finally, the resurrection life is a countercultural existence that values the body as God’s temple and is dedicated in mind and body to the service of God and others (see Rom 12:1-2). Unlike our culture more broadly, we Christians know (or ought to know) with Paul that our bodies belong to God (see 1 Cor 6:19-20) and that God will one day raise them (see 1 Cor 6:14).

Thus our bodies are to be offered to God (see Rom 6:12ff) in ways that reflect their dignity, purpose and final end. Good preaching and formation will consistently explore the implications of this kind of bodily resurrection existence on our sexual lives, our vocations, our use of time and money, and on much else. The resurrection, in other words, is the foundation of all we are and do.